The University of Minnesota Duluth started its spring semester Wednesday with fewer in-person or hybrid courses than it had last fall.

This semester, 27% of courses are either fully in person or at least partially so. Last semester that was the case for 37% of UMD classes before the university converted entirely to remote learning after Thanksgiving break in order to avoid a post-holiday case surge.

The decline in in-person classes this semester follows what UMD Chancellor Lendley Black called a successful fall semester. Last semester, about 600 students and staff tested positive for COVID-19. That’s roughly 5% of the campus community’s population of about 12,000.

As a result, the university was able to make it to Thanksgiving break without having to pivot sooner.

“I'm very proud of our university community for helping us get there,” Black said. “People have done a remarkable job of doing what they should be doing in terms of masking and keeping distances and sanitizing the classrooms.”

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Lendley "Lynn" Black.
Lendley "Lynn" Black.

Health officials have reported “very little” spread of COVID-19 in the classroom, the chancellor said. Most of the cases among the campus community were linked to off-campus social gatherings, such as parties and attending restaurants or bars.

Heading into the fall semester UMD reserved 57 on-campus housing rooms for residential students to quarantine and isolate in should they need to. There was never a point where those rooms were all full. Students living off campus were asked to quarantine or isolate at their homes.

In the fall, the university’s enrollment was down 5% compared to previous years. Feedback suggested that was largely due to the pandemic, Black said in a news conference on Jan. 11.

“We felt like the 5% certainly was not a good thing for us but it was well within the numbers of what we were seeing locally as well as nationally,” he said.

The university suspects a similar reduction will carry into the spring semester. While UMD has gained new students, Black said last Monday he also anticipated to lose some.

“Hopefully we'll be able to be even more successful in terms of COVID this spring,” Black said.

If anything positive can come out of a pandemic, it’s been the opportunity it has provided to reevaluate how the university operates, he said. More work will likely be done remotely, even when there’s no longer a pandemic requiring people do so. He anticipates the university will rethink some of the work-related travel it’s done in the past and do less of it.

“I'm very proud of the way people have adjusted our faculty and staff have done a phenomenal job adjusting their teaching,” he said, and later added, “Hopefully we'll be able to be even more successful in terms of COVID this spring.”

Last fall, UMD restructured its spring break plans to keep students from traveling and then returning back to campus. The campus will have two days of a spring break in the month of March. The other three days that would traditionally be included in the spring break have been moved to the end of the semester to serve as study days before final exams.